A new blog friend and frequent commenter, Heather, posed a question in the comment thread in my last post. I think it deserves attention. She simply asked, I'd enjoy hearing hear about how you lead your people to be a loving church (or how the Lord is guiding you in that direction)!
One simple caveat: the things I do, I do not not prescribe as normative for every ministry. The things that I do, though very simple, are what work in the context of ministry in which I serve.
Once while preaching on parenting I talked about spending time with my children. I made the point that my children really do not care what I do with them, just as long as I spend a long time doing it. Once is never enough with them, and to quote my father-in-law, if once is good, fifty times has to be better.
I discovered that principle in ministry to rural church folks as well. While studying in seminary, the pastoral ministry professor taught a lot of simple principles. These were inculcated and erroneously filed away as normative. Don't sit on the bed when making hospital visits; visit, and give the impression that you will stay a while, but only stay a few minutes; follow-up once on sick and surgery patients; never give a gift to a church member.
Many of these principles were taught in the interest of good time management. However, life moves a lot slower in the hay fields of Virginia. I discovered that visitation is important. Granted, it gets tiresome and there is only so much visiting I can do before I tire of it and I am ready to do more proactive ministry.
Yet, when handled appropriately, visitation can be proactive. Most folks, especially the aged, enjoy a visit from their pastor. When I go, I plan on staying at least an hour; I stay longer yet I visit less. Relationships are not built in a few moments but over time. How do you get to know somebody you do not talk to? So, to leave after only a few minutes is seen as an insult; the visit is interpreted as condescending patronization.
Therefore, I try to take advantage of the time. A good pastor friend calls these kinds of visits "tea and crumpet" visits; but I see the inherent value in them. I turn the visit to spiritual discussions. I ask simple, probing questions, such as, "What has God been teaching you lately? Has any passage of Scripture stuck in your mind recently? How can I pray for you and your family?" These questions always lead to sharing about family struggles and perfect opportunities for discipleship. It leads the discussion to biblical solutions for problems, examples to uphold and prescribe, and sometimes, revealing of sin.
These days time is a precious commodity. In these days when communications are instantaneous, drive-thru windows are the norm, what's new is hot, and the old is not quite so good anymore, there remains a place for visitation. Relationships have eternal consequences and most of the time, the fruits of those visits are not seen. Time and time again, I have proven Jim Elliff's words true. In the article I referenced last post, The Rural Church Dilemma, he says of the lack of "visibility" in rural church ministry:
Remember that you are entirely unaware of the impact of your ministry. For instance, you may teach older adults without much visible impact. But one of them, perhaps a grandparent of an unconverted child, may receive stimulus from your ministry that makes her a true witness to her grandchild. Her witness, prompted by your stimulus and instruction, may be the very thing God uses to bring that child to Him. She may not even be aware of her impact. In fact, it may not come to bear until after she has passed on. The grandchild, in time, may one day marry a believer and raise up children who also become believers in another part of America. Do you really know what that will mean in terms of eternity? Do you know what it means in terms of generations of believers? What if, three generations down the line, one of the Christians in this line is instrumental in the evangelization of an unreached tribal group? Did you see that when you taught that grandparent on a sleepy Sunday morning? Likely not. Don't forget that Jesus said, "I will build my church." The time you taught that grandparent might be far more instrumental in the building of the universal church than ten years of ministry in some large city church with all its innovations and activities. You cannot know how God will work for sure, yet you can be confident that it would be a total surprise to you how significant your labors are. Therefore, "sow in hope."This is what I do; I "sow in hope." Serving a church with a regular attendance of about 85, I thankfully know a little bit about every person in our church. Mega-church pastors, even mid-sized church pastors, cannot say that.
More posts on this topic forthcoming...